On Saturday afternoon, December 12th, our two young essay contest winners read their essays to our audience, who were virtually present for this last program in our series on the Treaty Of Trianon. You can read their essays below.
Tesza Csajka is a sixth grader, whose Hungarian father was born and raised in Kassa, Slovakia , and whose mother was born in the U.S. and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Ferenc Somogyi is a high school senior who shared what it is like to have a Hungarian father and a Romanian mother, and how their family life has an impact on how he views his ethnic identity.
The contest rules asked the participants to offer ideas as to how they could make the theme of Hungarian National Unity and Cohesiveness a reality in their lives and the lives of Hungarians living everywhere. Their essays were thought-provoking, at times poignant, and often gently humorous. Both young authors relied on personal experiences to help develop their ideas on maintaining and growing in their Hungarian identity.
We are so proud of these two young people; the audience of adults were encouraged by the enthusiasm, idealism and forward looking nature of their essays. We bring you both essays in their entirety, and we hope you will profit by reading them and spending time contemplating the same issues that these young writers grappled with.
(To read the essays, click the Read More link.)
The first essay is written by Tesza Csajka, winner in the middle school category.
Grade School Student
Hungarian Unity Belonging to the Hungarian Nation to me means that I am unique and special, and different from other kids in my school. I am part of a culture that stretches the entire world. For example, I have three favorite ice cream shops. The first is in Cleveland, near the Hungarian Scout Center, where I go with my friends after almost every scout meeting. The second is in Budapest, by the Oktogon where they serve their ice cream in cones made out of chimney cake (“kürtös kalács”). I also love the one in the Andrassy palace in Kassa (Kosice, Slovakia), the city where my dad grew up. These shops are hundreds, even thousands of miles apart, yet they are all natural parts of my life. Together, the locations of the three ice cream shops represent my connection to the Hungarian Nation.
Cleveland, Ohio is the city where I was born and still live today. My great-grandparents came here in 1956 and it was through the Hungarian Scouts that my mom and grandma learned about their Hungarian identity. The ice cream shop in Cleveland, which has a train that goes around and around right under the ceiling, represents that to me. I order my ice cream in English here, even though when I turn to my friends in line we speak in Hungarian.
Kassa is a huge part of my identity because it is where my dad was born and raised. He met my mom at a Hungarian scout camp in Argentina. I go there a lot to visit my grandparents, who still live there. I went to school there for a month in preschool and in fourth grade. The ice cream shop at the Andrassy palace is one my favorite places to go when I’m there. It is right on the main street across near the St. Elizabeth Cathedral. I order my three banana scoops in Slovak, and I have to help my mom because she doesn’t speak the language. My dad has spoken it to me since I was a baby.
Budapest is the capital for all Hungarians. I go there to visit my cousins and a change of scenery. To me, the ice cream shop with chimney cake ice cream cones is the highlight of my trips. It’s really tiny, and if I remember correctly, has an upstairs section where you can eat. Hungarian is the language for ordering here, and my family has no trouble with that.
I don’t know how to do this yet, but my idea to strengthen national unity is to set up a pen-pal website for Hungarian kids all over the world. This way, kids with Hungarian descent in America could speak with people their age across the globe. Kids in America could practice their Hungarian, and kids and Hungary could practice their English. I would definitely recommend it to my scout friends, because they’re probably to ones who would get the most from this. It would be good practice and a way to make foreign friends!
My connection to the Hungarian Nation is not tied to a specific location or country, and it doesn’t have to be. I am automatically connected to the Hungarian people in the three cities because of my ancestry. I can’t decide which of the three ice cream shops I like best, nor which city I like to be in the most. I feel equally at home in all three. And no physical border can take that away. That’s what Hungarian national unity means to me.
Our second essay was written by Ferenc Somogyi, winner in the high school category.
The Legacy of Trianon
and the Importance of my Heritages
November 30, 2020
In the context of Trianon and Hungarian national unity, my background is entirely unique and heavily informs my decisions. I am Hungarian on my father’s side and Romanian on my mother’s, and I have grown up speaking both languages and taking part in both ethnic diaspora communities. But, as many know, there still seems to be a strong animosity between Hungarians and Romanians. They seem to be mortal enemies – in fact, they fought in World War II principally against each other and over one priceless region – Transylvania. And Transylvania is essential to the national identities of both ethnicities and was therefore a point of territorial contention in the past. The region houses significant groups of both Romanians and Hungarians. (And – fatefully – my mother’s family is from Transylvania, specifically the city of Sibiu, in Hungarian Nagyszeben.)
My Hungarian and Romanian heritages have always interested and engaged me, but especially so in my recent adolescent years. I have researched Hungarian and Romanian culture, history, and politics incessantly. When I was young, I didn’t understand or even know about the historic animosities between Hungary and Romania. As I grew older, I realized this dichotomy and needed to make sense of it personally – so I began delving into my heritages. The more I found, the more convinced I became that these two “historical enemies” are actually closer to each other than previously imagined. Transylvania is at the center of that commonality. In Transylvania, Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, and other ethnic groups have coexisted for centuries. As Károly Kós, a famous Transylvanian, once postulated, the cultures of all Transylvanian ethnics have remained distinct but heavily influenced and borrowed from one another. And for this and historical-political circumstances, Transylvania has become the imagined heartland of both Hungary and Romania. For me, Transylvania became the clearest way to discover my own self – it was a way back to the coexistence of my heritages as a child and a way forward for reconciliation between Hungarians and Romanians everywhere.
My interest in Transylvania sparked a new interest in the multicultural nature of Central Europe – including Hungary and Romania – as a whole. I learned and am still learning about the ways the Carpathian and Danubian basins have always had cohabiting peoples who, before the excessive nationalism of the modern age, lived, learnt, and built societies together. It’s true that sometimes, they were far from respecting each other and getting along. But they were always together – their destinies were and are tied together, no matter the geopolitical circumstances. This should be a virtue, not a vice, in Central Europe today. It has certainly developed into a virtue for me.
I consider myself 100% Hungarian and 100% Romanian. I cannot in good conscience abandon one formative aspect of my identity for the other. In fact, for me, to be part of the Hungarian nation is to be part of the Romanian nation. I wouldn’t understand either if I didn’t understand both and their interactions. And I am inexplicably thankful to my family for taking a chance and raising a Hungarian-Romanian-American. I am so much better for it.
I have such a passion for my heritages that I am planning my university studies to focus on them as my career. I believe my point of view is positive, novel, and informative. It puts aside the extreme nationalism in favor of healthy patriotism and a desire to understand and live in peace with the other. This must be at the core of the united Hungarian nation today. In fact, Hungarian national unity can only be truly achieved if we come to terms with the others around us. Let me be clear – this does not mean abandoning or diluting our Hungarian-ness for another heritage. Instead, it means sharing and showcasing heritage for the common good and happiness of all. It does not mean forgetting or casting aside historical wrongs and tragedies. It means correcting them – together with others and with the strongest moral obligations and respect to current geopolitics. And it means listening to each other – because, on the outside, we all seem to have different stories, but on the inside, we’re more similar than we acknowledge.
As is apparent, Transylvania is an area of great interest and relative expertise for me. It is also an ideal and essential spot for trailblazing ethnic reconciliation and national unity with global implication. Its multiethnic character and the relatively peaceful coexistence of Romanians, Hungarians, and others that it showcases must be enhanced and serve as an example for all of multicultural Central Europe.
A significant aspect of Transylvania is that it harbors the largest compact Hungarian minority group in the Carpathian Basin – the Szeklers. This group has long desired regionalism and autonomy to improve its situation in Romania. Furthermore, Transylvania’s Romanians and Germans also have strong regional identities. What is important is that each group has a unique regional identity but also a strong commitment to national identity and unity. Szeklers have long contributed heavily to Hungarian national feeling. Transylvanian Romanians were instrumental in developing Romanian national intellectualism. Transylvania has found itself a middle ground – both distinct and integral to its inhabiting nationalities. It – and every other region in Central Europe – deserves the European Union-endorsed opportunity for regional development. It can also be a source of pride and culture for both Romanians and Hungarians.
In my opinion, it would be ideal for Hungary and Romania (and other countries with Hungarian minorities) to revisit past treaties of cooperation and work to institutionalize the importance and contributions of ethnic minorities to both their host nations and their motherlands. Hungary’s support of its ethnic minorities in Romania should be fully transparent to and respected by Romania. Borders between Hungary, Romania, and other countries in Central Europe need to be minimized. The free flow of culture in Central Europe must be regained – it has been long enough that it has been stifled by artificial and unnecessary borders. Eliminating borders means reconnecting and unifying the Hungarian nation. It means trusting the people of Central Europe, who have spent centuries living in relative peace and understanding. There is no reason that breaking down borders would lead to violence or tension between Hungarians and Romanians, for example.
The European Union is critical to accomplishing the reunification of the Hungarian nation as well as nurturing the coexistence of all Central European peoples. However, the European Union cannot be overly invasive, nor can it unreasonably enforce policies that have worked in Western Europe or try to stifle the development of Central Europeans. Central European countries are unique in their multicultural societies but also the many tragedies they have suffered. The 21st century must allow them to finally chart their own paths, free from harsh external influence. The EU must support Central Europe, not stifle and constantly criticize it out of lack of understanding.
One of my favorite historical ideas is that of the Danubian (Con)federation. This idea was advocated by esteemed Hungarians – most notably Lajos Kossuth – and other Central Europeans as well, like the Romanian Nicolae Bălcescu. The idea was to bring Central Europeans together in close political and economic cooperation to ensure democracy, peace, and stability in the region alongside the opportunity for ethnic and national development for all coexisting ethnicities and minorities. Unfortunately, this plan of confederation – which, if it had been implemented in Kossuth’s time, may have prevented both world wars – never came to be. Today, the European Union fulfills many of the hopes of the Danubian Confederation, such as economic cooperation. However, I believe that closer political, economic, and cultural cooperation of Central Europeans is still possible. Central European countries would do well to solve political spats and work to find more common ground for their common development. These countries could work with each other better to eliminate the communist remnants of their past and establish truly strong democracies. Additionally, it is imperative that Central Europeans foster distinct yet harmonized national and cultural identities. Historical interpretations of nations must be harmonized – after all, there was only one past. Students should be taught to preserve and love their cultures as well as learn about their cultures’ connection to other cultures and ethnicities in the area. Minorities should receive the utmost respect. No more brainwashing of the young should be tolerated.
There is still much to do in Hungary and Central Europe. We are on the way to building a better future, but we are not there yet. The full unification of the Hungarian nation will only come about if we reconcile with the other nationalities in Central Europe and learn to live together, in harmony, while respecting and preserving our own cultures. And even here, in the diaspora, we can contribute to this mission. We must keep our own ethnic communities strong and endeavor to connect and help our homelands as often as we can. There is a strong legacy in Hungarian diaspora communities of connecting and influencing positively those in Hungary – we cannot let this legacy fade away.
Above all, we must act with morality and love for each other. Only then can we really accomplish lasting change that is best for all parties involved. Together, we can find better ideas and build a better future. With our help, Hungarians, Romanians, and other ethnicities can finally live happily and in cooperation, each with its strong identity and full acceptance and respect of the others.